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The way was long, the wind was cold,
The Minstrel 1 was infirm and old ;
His withered cheek and tresses gray
Seemed to have known a better day;
The harp, his sole remaining joy,
Was carried by an orphan boy.
The last of all the Bards 2 was he,
of Border chivalry ;
For, well-a-day ! 3 their date was fled,
His tuneful brethren all were dead;
And he, neglected and oppressed,
Wished to be with them, and at rest.
No more on prancing palfrey 4 borne,
He olled, light as lark at morn ;
No longer courted and caressed,
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,
He poured, to lord and lady gay,
The unpremeditated lay :
Old times were changed, old manners gone ;
A stranger filled the Stuarts' throne ;5
The bigots of the iron time 6
Had called his harmless art a crime.
A wandering Harper, scorned and poor,
He begged his bread from door to door,
And tuned, to please a peasant's ear,
The harp a king had loved to hear.
He passed where Newark's stately tower 7 Looks out from Yarrow's birchen bower The Minstrel gazed with wishful eyeNo humbler resting-place was nigh. With hesitating step, at last, The embattled portal arch he passed, Whose ponderous grate and massy bar Had oft rolled back the tide of war, But never closed the iron door Against the desolate and poor.
The Duchess 8 marked his weary pace,
His timid mien, and reverend face,
And bade her page the menials tell
That they should tend the old man well :
For she had known adversity,
Though born in such a high degree ;
In pride of power, in beauty's bloom,
Had wept o'er Monmouth's bloody tomb ! 9
When kindness had his wants supplied,
And the old man was gratified,
Began to rise his minstrel pride;
And he began to talk anon,
Of good Earl Francis,10 dead and gone,
And of Earl Walter, 11 rest him God !
A braver ne'er to battle rode ;
And how full many a tale he knew,
Of the old warriors of Buccleuch : 12
And, would the noble Duchess deign
To listen to an old man's strain,
Though stiff his hand, his voice though weak,
He thought even yet, the sooth 13 to speak,
That, if she loved the harp to hear,
He could make music to her ear.
The humble boon was soon obtained ;
The Aged Minstrel audience 14 gained.
But, when he reached the room of state,
Where she, with all her ladies, sate,
Perchance he wished his boon denied :
For, when to tune his harp he tried,
His trembling hand had lost the ease
Which marks security to please ;
And scenes, long past, of joy and pain,
Came wildering o'er his aged brain-
He tried to tune his harp in vain !
The pitying Duchess praised its chime,
And gave him heart, and gave him time. ...,
Amid the strings his fingers strayed,
And an uncertain warbling made,
And oft he shook his hoary head.
But when he caught the measure wild,
The old man raised his face, and smiled ;
And lightened up his faded eye
With all a poet's ecstasy !
In varying cadence, soft or strong,
He swept the sounding chords along :
The present scene, the future lot,
His toils, his wants, were all forgot :
Cold diffidence, and age's frost,
In the full tide of song were lost ;
Each blank, in faithless memory void,
The poet's glowing thought supplied ;
And, while his harp responsive rung,
'Twas thus the LATEST MINSTREL sung.
Breathes there the man with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land ! Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned, As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand ! If such there breathe, go, mark him well ; For him no minstrel raptures swell ; High though his titles, proud his name, Boundless his wealth as wish can claim ; Despite those titles, power, and pelf, The wretch, concentred all in self, Living, shall forfeit fair renown, And, doubly dying, shall go down To the vile dust, from whence he sprung, Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung. O Caledonia ! stern and wild, Meet nurse for a poetic child ! Land of brown heath and shaggy wood, Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires ! what mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand !
Still, as I view each well-known scene,
Think what is now, and what hath been,
Seems as, to me, of all bereft,
Sole friends thy woods and streams were left ;
And thus I love them better still,
Even in extremity of ill.
By Yarrow's streams still let me stray,
Though none should guide my feeble way ;
Still feel the breeze down Ettrick break,
Although it chill my withered cheek ;
Still lay my head by Teviot Stone,
Though there, forgotten and alone,
The Bard may draw his parting groan.
Hushed is the harp—the Minstrel gone.
And did he wander forth alone ?
Alone, in indigence and age,
To linger out his pilgrimage?
No !-close beneath proud Newark's tower,
Arose the Minstrel's lowly bower ;
A simple hut; but there was seen
The little garden hedged with green,
The cheerful hearth, and lattice clean.
There sheltered wanderers, by the blaze 15
Oft heard the tale of other days;
For much he loved to ope his door,
And give the aid he begged before.
So passed the winter's day ; but still,
When summer smiled on sweet Bowhill,
And July's eve, with balmy breath,
Waved the blue-bells on Newark heath;
When throstles sung in Harehead-shaw,
And corn was green on Carterhaugh,
And flourished, broad, Blackandro’s oak,
The aged Harper's soul awoke!
Then would he sing achievements high,
And circumstance of chivalry,
Till the rapt traveller would stay,
Forgetful of the closing day;
And noble youths, the strain to hear,
Forsook the hunting of the deer;
And Yarrow, as he rolled along,
Bore burden to the Minstrel's song.